By Lamar Johnson
For Unwind magazine
The Terrapins exceeded expectations thanks to two driving forces: Melo Trimble, of course, and the trio of stellar freshman starters.
Melo Trimble was Maryland basketball for the past three seasons. After he hit his final shot at Xfinity he proudly declared, “This is my state.”
Two postseason losses later, the Terps would end the season 24-9, tied for second in the Big Ten.
On March 29, Trimble announced that he’d declare for the NBA Draft, ending his college career. But while the Terps are losing a face of the program, the cupboard is not bare.
Trimble was able to expand his game this season and become a better off-ball scorer thanks to freshman Anthony Cowan coming in and starting from day one. Cowan was one of three freshmen that started, along with Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson. Fans should expect this trio to be the core of the Terps next season.
Cowan and Huerter were slotted as starters prior to the start of the season, but Jackson was not. After 17 points in game two against Georgetown University, he earned his spot in the starting lineup.
“The reason [Jackson] didn’t start to start the season [was] we were still teaching him how to practice hard every day, and to prepare the right way,” coach Mark Turgeon said to reporters March 8. “He didn’t want to start against Georgetown… I said, ‘You don’t have a choice, I’m starting you the next game.’”
Jackson will be the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder, and his potential should give Maryland fans hope for next season. He finished his rookie year second on the team in scoring, between Trimble (16.8 points per game) and Cowan (10.3 points per game), averaging 10.5 points and a team-high six rebounds a night.
Though he’s officially listed at 6-foot-7, his 7-foot-3 wingspan allowed him to match up against bigger players. His length gave opposing forwards issues defensively, as he chipped in almost a steal and a block each game. Offensively, he scored both from inside and outside the arc and buried triples at nearly a 44 percent rate.
Cowan is set to be Maryland’s starting point guard moving forward, and for good reason. He finally gave Turgeon a secondary ball-handler to play big minutes next to Trimble. He and Trimble combined for 7.4 assists per game, averaging 3.7 a piece. He’s also a more-than-capable defender, harassing opposing ball-handlers for a team-high 1.2 steals per game.
Huerter proved to be the most well-rounded of the trio, averaging around nine points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block per game. He also shot 42 percent from the field and a solid 37 percent from long range.
He’ll be a candidate to slide to guard this summer, as he was a 6-foot-3 point guard in high school before growing to a listed 6-foot-7. Huerter was the Terps’ Swiss Army knife this season, and should be even more of a threat with experience under his belt.
Michael Cekovsky was slated to be a major contributor this season, but it didn’t play out as expected. He struggled with injuries and only ended up playing in 17 games. The fact that Maryland still did as well without their best offensive center is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Center Damonte Dodd finished his four-year career as a stellar defensive anchor. He finished this season ranked third in the Big Ten in block percentage, according to Kenpom, and he led the Terps with two blocks per game. Maryland was a much better defensive team with Dodd on the floor, and he also bumped his scoring up to 6.2 points per game.
As for the rest of the team, some will continue at Maryland while others are moving on.
Graduate transfer L.G. Gill looked out of place learning how to play center in his final season. Sophomore Ivan Bender was forced to play center often as well, but showed flashes of his offensive potential.
Jaylen Brantley looked confident and comfortable in his second season with Maryland, but he’s off to pursue a larger role as a graduate transfer.
Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley both saw their minutes and team contributions decrease as the season went on, averaging just 10 minutes and 3.1 points each. Wiley battled a nagging back injury and only saw action in 20 games.
Micah Thomas redshirted his freshman year, but is also transferring from the program.
Many players are leaving Maryland basketball. Trimble’s going to the draft, Dodd and Gill are on track to graduate, and Brantley and Thomas are transferring. So who’s coming in?
Joshua Tomaic, who redshirted along with Thomas, will be poised to contribute next season. Two four-star recruits are also en route to College Park, 6-foot-4 guard Darryl Morsell and 6-foot-10 center Bruno Fernando.
Morsell is Turgeon’s first recruit from Baltimore, hailing from Mount Saint Joseph High School. Having seen him at the Capital Classic April 8, he figures to be an instant contributor for the Terps.
He’s a drive-and-kick facilitator, skilled in the pick-and-roll and a stout defender as well. He’ll bring some excitement to the Terps next season, and he’s already drawing praise from Fernando.
“Darryl’s a great player, I really like the way he plays. One thing we both have in common is how well we shoot the ball from the three point line or mid-range,” Fernando said at the Classic.
In Fernando, the Terps are getting a big man that can just as easily swish an open three as send a shot flying into the stands. Morsell is already envisioning how they’ll pair together on both ends of the floor.
“A lot of pick and rolls, a lot of pick and pops [on offense],” Morsell said. “I think I’m a pretty good on-ball defender, but I know if I get beat, he’s right there to help.”
Maryland losing Trimble will be hard to swallow, but he left the team in solid shape. The Terps have pieces in place that will still make them a hassle for other teams in the Big Ten conference, and next season the team will look to surpass expectations once again.